The boy in the striped pyjamas

By Arthur van Leeuwen, V5A

A horrible subject as seen from a child’s perspective. That is, in my opinion, the best way to describe this novel written by John Boyne. The story introduces you to a nine-year old boy named Bruno. He lives with his sister, Gretl, and his parents in a gigantic house in Berlin, Germany. In the first chapter Bruno finds out that ‘Father’ has to move with his family because of a new function at work.

‘He had seen it first and he could see it whenever he wanted because they were outside his bedroom window not hers and therefore they belonged to him and he was the king of everything they surveyed and she was his lowly subject’


The family moves to a place called ‘Out-With’. As a  ‘grown-up’ reader you can figure out quite quickly that it’s actually Auschwitz, the same thing goes for ‘Führer’ and ‘Fury’, but I like that the writer tries to let you feel like you’re in Bruno’s head, and let you think and interpret things though the mind of a nine-year old. You can see this in the quote, I also have a sister and I recognize the constant competition between brother and sister. It could’ve been my thought, when I was at the age of Bruno.

Bruno’s starting to get really bored, and so he decides that he is going to explore the area. He had seen that there was a fence, that separates his neighborhood from a place with people in striped pyjamas. At the fence he meets a boy, named Shmuel. Shmuel and Bruno happen to have a lot of similarities and they become very close friends. Bruno had been told by Father that he wasn’t allowed to make contact with the other people (Out of bounds and No Exceptions, just like Fathers office), but pig-headed as he is, he goes and talk with Shmuel every week. At a certain point in the story, Shmuel has to serve the family of Bruno in the house. This causes a very strange situation because they can’t let anyone know they know each other. Father suggests that Mother and the children should go back to Berlin due some family issues. Bruno tells Shmuel about the plans, and the boys decide to get Bruno over the fence, to help find Shmuel’s father, as a last adventure.The story ends at a sad tone by the dead of the main character.

I found this book surprisingly well written. It reads fast, you’re not getting bored with descriptions of every little thing and the story transmission benefits from all the dialogues that have been used. Although there have been some things that are not realistic in this novel. Bruno seems like a bright kid, he doesn’t understand everything, but I think he could have known what was happening to all those people ‘behind the fence’. You realise how naive Bruno is when he, on command of his father, performs the Hitler salute without knowing what the words that he shouts actually mean. Also the fact that Shmuel just can hang out and relax with Bruno along the fence, in a concentration camp, seems a bit strange.

Overall I think it’s a very good book, very original, perspective wise. The end is harsh, but it feels like it has to end that way. I really like the style, and how the writer brings two completely different worlds, so close together. Therefore, I recommend this book to almost everyone. It’s an easy read, but it gives you something to think about, that’s, to my opinion, the strength of this book.


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